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Sun, 19 Feb 2006

Public Speaking and LIPs

Since we finished writing Ship It! A Practical Guide to Successful Software Projects I've gotten a number of opportunities for public speaking. Since, like most folks with a technical bent, I've not been crazy about giving presentations, I needed some work.

After putting in a lot of work, I'd like to think I've gotten pretty decent. I'm realizing that, just like writing software, there are some basic principals that you can follow to improve your craft. And, just like development, we all have different areas we need to improve.

As I practice and get feedback from live talks, I've isolated three areas that I need to be remember. A great way to remember something is to write about it. Another great way is to put it on your blog so that people who come to hear me talk know what my weak points are. This way I'll have to improve. :)

I formulated an acronym to remind me of the areas that I need to watch the most.

LIP stands for:

The first item is Lock. It's a simple rule. You may not talk to your laptop, your notes, your slides on the big screen, or the back wall. You aren't allowed to talk unless you have eye contact. If you don't have eye contact, just pause, take a breath, and scan the room. (Note that "pause" is item three!)

The benefits here are huge.

Eye contact lets you connect with a person and have a conversation. This isn't the dreaded "public speaking" torture, but just talking to someone. I've been shocked at how much of the nerves and shakiness just goes away when I talk to a person in the audience.

But don't talk to just one person. If you did that you'd leave out the rest of the audience. Move from person to person and deliver a sentence or a thought. If it's a list share it. One major point per person. This keeps you moving across the room, includes people, keeping them awake and engaged, and forces you to pause between thoughts.

What if no-one will look at you? Well, if they're reading your slides, wait for them to finish. And next time, put less text on your slides. Put a few key thoughts on them to remind you... and your audience later. If there's a picture on the slide, give them time to absorb it. Don't just "run past them" and start talking.

If you don't have a set of eyes locked, you shouldn't be talking.

The second point is Intonation. I'm told I have a very soft, comforting speaking voice. Apparently I'd make a great air traffic controller, but not the best speaker. "Aircraft 356, please come to 35,000 feet immediately or you'll hit that mountain. Have a nice day!"

I have to focus on taking my voice higher, adding inflection, going loud and soft. Every class or review session I've been in has mentioned this.

I'm slowing learning that what sounds outrageously loud and "over the top" to me sounds fine to my audience. This seems to be true for most people.

If you have a chance, practice this one a few friends. See how loud you can get for an empty room before your audience thinks you're getting too loud. Over emphasize every vocal intonation. When I do this I always feel like I'm shouting and my audience is telling me I finally sound strong.

The last item is the awesome Pause. So many speakers just don't pause. Many times we throw out a great point or show an awesome slide, then, while the audience is going "Wow!", we keep talking. Instead of letting the audience absorb your hard work, you're dragging them off to the next point.

Waiting for an eye lock will help with you with this one. The Lock and the Pause seem to be tied pretty closely. If you're doing the Lock right, the Pause usually falls into place without much work.

Click a slide. Deliver a point. Then do a three to five second count in your head. This pause will feel like an eternity at first, but you'll get used to it very quickly. And I've never had an audience complain. In fact, people who've heard the same talk more than once have liked the "pause heavy" talks the most.

The Pause gives you time to think as well. When you're on the stage and you bring up a new slide or point the three second pause gives you all the time you need to organize your thoughts.

Too often, when we're doing public speaking, we get faster and more nervous the longer we go. We think we're doing poorly so we try to think faster, to get caught up... instead we start talking even faster to match the rate of our thoughts. It's a bad downward spiral that's ruined a lot of presentations.

Instead of spirally down, deliver a single point (or though, sentence, or slide), then wait. Count to three. Wait for eye contact. Then proceed.

By the time you finish your first talk with this format, you'll find you fall into a rhythm that's very comfortable. I really enjoy giving talks when I remember these points. Of course, there are many other points to remember, but everyone will have a different area they need to remember.

Why is this in a largely technical blog? Because most techies are just flat out dumb when it comes to public speaking. They don't think they need the skills so they don't cultivate them. Then they have to give a presentation and they bomb. Somebody with less technical talent passes them by because they present themselves better.

But you don't give presentations you say? Bull. Failing to recognize it doesn't change it. Here are a few examples.

Maybe you haven't done any of these things, but if you have and you've failed, it may have been your presentation instead of your message.

Don't ignore your own UI. Remember your LIPs.

Jared

posted at: 20:02 | path: | permanent link to this entry